Living With Kids: Becca Garber

I’m not sure what’s most visually stunning in this tour: Mount Etna or the fireplace! (That shot above is the kitchen window view. Gulp.) But then there’s Becca’s super intentional style of parenting and innate gratitude for her life, and the views somehow become secondary.

The Garbers are an American family on a military tour that ends this summer, so I’m glad we have the chance to tour their home before they head off on another adventure. Just one look out that kitchen window, and I’m sure it’s going to be incredibly difficult to say goodbye to this space and pace of living with their kids in Southern Italy. Friends, welcome to the Garber home!

Our family started in Boston in 2008 with a blue-eyed, bearded veterinary student and a determined young nurse. Even before we started dating, we knew we’d marry each other….and we were right! We got married in a surprise snowstorm in 2010. Shortly after our wedding, Elliott left for a 12-month deployment with the U.S. Army, an experience that challenged us but also gave our new marriage a unique texture and fortitude.

Now we are the stretched-but-grateful parents of vivacious Lena (three) and curly-haired Gil (one). We also have an opportunistic Maine Coon cat named Siena.

We live in a yellow house on the edge of a cliff in Sicily. Elliott is a veterinarian in the Army, where he cares for military working dogs and runs a vet clinic on base. I’m taking time off from my career as a nurse to stay at home with our children, and in the meantime I’m pursuing my creative side with blogging, knitting, and photography.

After Elliott’s yearlong deployment away from his new bride, the Army gave him his choice of assignment. Starry-eyed, I chose Italy. The rural, quiet beauty of southern Italy appealed to us because of our love for the outdoors and our desire to live a simple life.

We arrived in July 2011 with three-month-old Lena. A few days later, I was looking at photos of potential houses, and I saw one with a spectacular view of Mount Etna, exposed brick, dark wood trim, a rustic fireplace, and a balcony overlooking a green valley. Right outside the front door was a Norman castle from the 12th Century. “I just found our house!” I said.

We signed our contract a few weeks later, but only after an agonizing, cross-cultural, bilingual exchange about our kitchen. Italians typically move their kitchen appliances and cabinetry with them, and so this house had nothing. In the end, we went to IKEA and designed our kitchen with our landlady. Now it’s our favorite room in the house. I’m especially smitten with the above-sink drying rack. We don’t have a dishwasher, so I use that rack all day long. When I design my dream home, I’m going to add this Italian feature to my kitchen.

Honestly, living in this beautiful house hasn’t always been easy. It leaks, it floods, there’s mold, and the parking situation is literally medieval. The electricity for our heating and air conditioning is extremely expensive, so we have learned to use the bare minimum of both.

For all that, though, we love this house. One of my favorite moments of every day is walking into the kitchen in the morning to see Mount Etna sparkling in the sunrise. We can hear sheep and cowbells as shepherds herd their flocks through the valley below. In the winter we read books in front of the fire all weekend. In the summer we open all the windows and put the kids in an inflatable pool on the balcony.

Best of all, our cliff-side home is really in the heart of town. We can open our front door and walk out into the neighborhood, where the cobblestone streets were intended for donkeys instead of our Fiat. In the summer we escape the hot house for a passeggiata (evening walk) to the gelateria; we walk home licking our cones and greeting our neighbors. Every Wednesday I push my stroller to the town market, where I stock up on super-local produce, fresh seafood, marinated artichokes, and the most delicious wine that costs two euros per bottle!

Before Sicily, we lived in a tiny apartment on Capitol Hill in D.C., so it still feels novel to spread out in a three-bedroom house. We brought everything with us and found a way to make it work in the layout of our Sicilian villa. The living room was particularly challenging.

Honestly, the piece of furniture I love most in our house doesn’t even belong to us. It’s the huge table and benches in the dining room. Our landlords told us that the table was custom-made for that room from olive wood. I look for every excuse to fill the seats at that table.

Because we live far from family, our friends here are our family, and we stick together around the holidays. So Christmas and Thanksgiving are always at our house! Some of my favorite memories of Sicily involve conversations, laughter, and good food shared around that beautiful table.

Living overseas with my kids is a dream come true for me because I did the same as a child. My dad worked for an oil company, so I was born in Egypt and lived in Australia, Singapore, Pakistan, India, and Brazil all before I went to college. Those countries gave me flexibility, openness, and memories that influence me every day.

Living overseas as a mom is different than as a child, though. I have come to appreciate two things most of all: the value of community and the beauty of quiet.

Because we are so far from home, and because this military community is so small, we really need our friends. We have learned the importance of showing up consistently week after week at church, book club, a playgroup, etc. Our presence and dedication makes a big difference in whether these communities succeed or fail. “Success” means they bring our friends together to support and invest in each other.

I really learned the value of that when my little sister died in a car accident a year into our assignment here. I went back to the States for a few weeks to grieve with my family, but then I had to come back to life overseas. Having my Sicilian community love me, feed me, and pray for me made such a difference in carrying on with grace while far from home.

We’ve also loved how quiet our life is in Sicily. We feel less distracted here than we did in the States because there are a lot fewer commercial options. If you want to eat out in our town, you can have pasta, pizza, or gelato. If you want to shop, you can go to the pharmacy, bakery, or general store. I love that.

We’ve didn’t bring a TV, and so we all read books all the time. Since moving here, I’ve read an average of 50 books a year. With Lena and Gil, we fill our days with baking, reading, building block towers, and going for walks around town and into the valley.

I love my home when it’s full of people – family from the States, friends for a game night, Elliott’s veterinary staff for our annual Christmas party – it doesn’t matter. We have overnight (or over-week!) visitors every month, and we wish even more would come!

On the flip side, weekends are beautiful here. Sometimes we go on day trips with friends, but generally weekends are life in slow motion. Elliott and I take turns with the kids so the other person can sleep in. We make a big pancake breakfast. We almost always go on some kind of hike – usually with a picnic lunch – into the valley below our house.

During the kids’ nap time in the afternoon, Elliott and I talk, write, and read together. On winter evenings, Elliott and Lena build a fire, and after the kids are in bed we’ll pop popcorn and watch a movie on our laptop in front of the hearth.

When Lena was a few months old, I read a book that changed my life. It’s called “Simplicity Parenting,” and it inspired me to create a home for my children where they can play, create, learn, and sleep in a structured, peaceful environment.

Of course, in the real world, life is anything but structured and peaceful! Our ideal everyday life goes something like this: we’re up around 7am to eat breakfast and send Elliott off to work. Gil naps in the morning, and then both kids nap in the afternoon, which is bliss. We eat dinner when Elliott gets home or soon thereafter, and both kids are in bed by 7:30.

In between, there’s not a lot of structure, but there are a lot of crayons, books, blocks, and free, imaginative play. The kids also “help” me around the house with laundry or washing windows, and we cook together a lot. We plan screen time when I trim their nails, because that is the only way I can get them to sit still!

Every day around lunchtime we get out of the house, whether it’s on a walk to the playground in our town, to run errands on base, or to go exploring with another mom and her kids. I love these adventures the most! We choose a destination – like visiting a nearby town or market – and head out with our passel of kids in search of Italian beauty, delicious food, and some crazy memories.

Our assignment ends this summer, so we’ll move when Lena is three-and-a-half. Sadly, my kids will probably not remember Sicily and our life here.

So I write. I take pictures. I journal. I work hard to tell a story of our family now that will be consistent through all the years of their life, a story where these things are valued: honest books, real food, faithful friendships, big windows, cozy fireplaces, green plants, and open arms. I strive to create a home in which there is peace – with God, with each other, with reality – and an attitude of thankfulness.

That said, these are aspirations! In fact, I’ve been convicted lately about my attitude of entitlement and tendency to whine or complain when I don’t get whatever I feel entitled to receive. So much for peace and thankfulness!

Realizing this has helped me gain some perspective on how blessed I am to live in Sicily, stay at home with my kids, and cultivate hobbies like blogging, knitting, and cooking. It’s easy to lose perspective in the daily slog with little ones, as I’m sure most moms know. I hope that my children will remember me as a joyful person, grateful for so many things.

I love being at home. In my childhood, with the transition from country to country, home was always a stable, familiar place. My siblings and I were homeschooled because we moved so much, and home was a place to learn, grow, thrive, and rest.

I feel the same now. I love being at home with Gil and Lena – love it – even when the days are long and sometimes monotonous. I get great joy out of making our home an inviting, peaceful place, a place where my children can flourish, where visitors feel welcomed, where Elliott and I can rest. I love being there to introduce my children to my favorite things, like dancing to music in the living room, eating fresh bread hot out of the oven, reading picture books in bed together, or watching the sun rise from our balcony after some little person woke up too early. This life is a gift.

I wish someone had told me to make room for people in our lives. I wish I had learned this earlier. I spent too many years keeping up appearances, especially in college, and knew so many people at such a superficial level.

Life with my husband and children, though, has challenged that. I am invested in them, and that requires a complete restructuring of priorities. For our children, the hours we choose to walk more slowly so we can talk, to cook more slowly so we can teach, to read more slowly so we can explain, to live more slowly so we can love – these are investments in life now and life forever.

Equally so, our investments in family, friends, and strangers-becoming-friends will reap rewards both for us and for our children. The Skype dates with aunts and uncles that always seem to happen when the kids get fussy, the frantic cleaning of the guest room sometimes after the guests have arrived, the dinners with friends even with whining kids and half-finished conversations – these decisions show love and prioritize people.

That is the goal of my life: making room – welcoming – people into my heart and home, in Sicily, and wherever life takes us next.

–-

Becca, I found myself nodding vehemently when you wrote “This life is a gift.” Good to remember. Equally moving is your reminder to make room for people. We just can’t live without a community, can we? Thank you for showing us around your lovely Italian life! (And, is that your dryer on the balcony?!)

The story of the family’s kitchen brings back a lot of Europe-specific memories. Every country has a different way of living — in the United States, it’s almost unheard of to take your entire kitchen (built in cupboards, too!) with you to your next home. For those of you living in other parts of the world, what’s the one real estate-related quirk that surprised you the first time you learned of it?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

53 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Becca Garber”

  1. I LOVE your wisdom about people. Every time I make the effort to invite over friends, show-up at a church activity, send a message, and just stay in touch, I am SOOO glad I did! I agree with you–our relationships will bring us our greatest happiness. You have a beautiful home! I wish I could come over for a walk through the cobblestone streets with our kids and strollers. :)

  2. Thank you so much for sharing how important people are. It’s something I have been reminded of time and time again recently and I wish more people consciously thought about it and made time for others. I try to always be available for others, even when it isn’t necessarily the most convenient for me.

  3. Wow, such a beautiful post. Beautiful home, beautiful story, and way of living life. I can’t believe the views, and I love several of the rooms. It sounds like a quiet life surrounded with good people, and I’m sure her kids will love looking at her journals and pictures about the time in Italy later, even if they don’t personally remember being there.

    1. Thanks, Traci! That’s definitely one of the reasons I blog. I’m terrible about scrapbooking and making family photo albums, but the combined journal/photo album of a blog has been an amazing way to record our memories from this season of life.

  4. I’ve never commented before, but I really love these Living with Kids posts, even though I don’t have any yet myself. It’s a great encouragement to think about the priorities. Especially as someone living abroad for the last 6 years, this post in particular struck a chord. Its sometimes so easy to let the time pass and not make an effort to connect with others, especially when at times they don’t even seem to notice, but its so important, both locally and with folks back at home. Kudos Becca to you and your family.

  5. Ah what a great post. I read through it not even looking at the pictures the first time because I was so taken with Becca’s efforts, thoughts, hopes and desires for her family’s life. Beautiful! A great reminder to reach a little more for those things I aspire to achieve for our family and continue to let go of things that aren’t benefiting our life and making it beautiful. We just had a wonderful dinner party at our house on Sunday and it reminded me in a big way to keep inviting people over, keep inviting people into our fold and keep reaching out. It blesses them and it really blesses us.

  6. That fireplace is crazy! It looks like it’s right out of the Hobbit.
    What an amazing experience, living in Sicily. The views are beautiful and I love the idea of walking to a gelateria after dinner every night. Heaven!

  7. I visited Sicily last fall, my nephew and his wife are stationed there. This post brought back some great memories. It’s such a beautiful area. I’m not an early riser so I can’t comment on sunrises but the balcony sunsets are the best!

  8. Beautiful house!

    Please share the details of that 2 euro bottle of wine. My husband is on det at Sig as we speak and I’d like him to stock up :-)

    1. So cool, Marie! We live in Motta, a little town about 10 minutes from NAS 1. There’s a great pizza restaurant in Motta (called Donna Fortunata) that your husband might enjoy visiting while he’s here. It’s just down the street from the little shop where we buy our wine. The shop is between the restaurant and the main cobblestone piazza of the town, and I don’t think it has a name… maybe “Alimentari” something-or-other, and it’s run by an elderly gentleman who always wears a gray jacket and gray fedora. We like any of his red wines. Hope he can find it! Feel free to email me if you need better directions. :)

  9. Hi there

    Great post. I actually found and read your blog about 2.5 years ago and then lost it and couldn’t find it so it was a real treat to have it pop up here again. I feel like we’re living parallel lives, our children are only weeks apart in ages and I’m living a long way from home (in the UK (via Sweden)- so no language hurdles).

    My children would not go to sleep tonight so I had a (very) quick catch up on your blog. I notice your children share a room (ours do) are yours good sleepers? (neither of mine have ever slept well.) How do you manage bed time – do you stagger the bed times, are books read in lounge room for older, etc… If you have time I’d like to know your experience.

    We recently received a middle of the night phone call to, we both braced ourselves for the news (not our first) fortunately this time it was a false alarm. Thoughts for you and your family while you live so far from them xx

  10. Becca : Making Room in Sicily

    So glad to be reconnected, Christine! Your question is a great one. My kids actually don’t share a room; there’s a portable crib in the guest room (with the blue and white quilt) that was out of the frame. The single bed near the crib in the nursery is sort of useless; we kept in case guests needed it, but really it’s a glorified changing table. Right now my 3yo sleeps in the crib ,and my 1yo is in the portable crib in the guest room.

    When guests come (as they do every month for about a week), we move my son in with my daughter. We bathe them together, and then Gil gets a story and put to bed, and then Lena gets a story and is put to bed. The same happens for naps. It isn’t perfect (they wake each other up too early!), but over time they’ve gotten used to it. I think the fact that they’re still contained in cribs has a lot to do with it! And maybe also it would be hard to talk over the roar of the white noise machine that is turned up for just that purpose? ;)

    1. Thanks for the detailed reply. I’ll pop over to your blog and say hello properly (when I get a chance!).

      Saw your instagram feed: definitely parallel lives. We have the same pram (although ours is white/grey and my oldest has given up on sitting down so uses a board to stand up).
      Cheers
      Christine

  11. Very intriguing career of your husband. I love the simple parenting philosophy. When my children were little, I discovered the library and children’s literature. Then, you blink and life gets more busy and your kids aren’t little anymore. Good luck on your next adventure.

  12. Beautiful photos of your home! I’m sure you’ll treasure them as you think back on your Sicilian years.

  13. Yes, the apartment looks absolutely gorgeous, as it truly is (since I have been one of the fortunate people you have made room for). What you write about your life, your hopes, and your efforts is inspiring, Becca!

  14. I love the line about restructuring our priorities “…for our children, the hours we choose to walk more slowly so we can talk, to cook more slowly so we can teach, to read more slowly so we can explain, to live more slowly so we can love – these are investments in life now and life forever.” Such truth but so easy to get caught up with what the world views as important and to forget this. The whole home was beautiful with so many unique items and I completely agree that the table is fantastic! Thank you for sharing your home with us all!

      1. Melbourne is a fantastic city (I live in Adelaide, which is also very nice) and I visit as often as I can, it is a long drive but a short flight away. To me it has a very European feel, very unlike the showgirl that is Sydney, and I am sure if you do visit you will see many changes since you lived there!

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  16. Becca! Don’t know if you remember me from CTK Cambridge, but WHAT A FUN SURPRISE to see you on Design Mom and read about your life! Beautiful, beautiful. Blessings on your next big adventure. I loved reading this!

  17. In Sweden, or at least in apartments in Sweden, you take your celling lights with you. On the roof are plug holes and so you just have to buy a cord, a light bulb and whatever lamp cover/shade you want. In New Zealand where I come from all celling lights are inbuit.

  18. My father was in the Navy and we lived in Sicily during my middle school years. I have such fond memories of the place, the people, and our time together. Living off base, away from other Americans and the activities that busy life, really bonded us as a family. We explored together, tried new food together, got lost together, learned new things together. I don’t think we’d be the family we are without our time in Sicily. I so wish to take my husband and our children some day.

  19. Wonderful post! I love all of the pictures. I especially like the section on “Finish this sentence.”

  20. Dear Gabrielle,
    I love all your Living with Kids home tours and I wanted to share something I ran across today that had me so impressed. The Architecture students at U of Utah, have a program called Design Build Bluff…each year the Masters students design a house for someone on the Navajo reservation in the 1st semester, then in the 2nd semester…they BUILD it for the deserving family (all volunteer labor, with material donations from the community. This year’s project is for Juanita Joe, a Navajo mom of 4 who is disabled. This is no ordinary affordable housing project, think rammed earth walls, concrete floors, really simple and lovely detailing.
    I have attached a link to the stunning finished results:

    http://www.designbuildbluff.org/blog/

    Super impressed with this school and its Social Impact Design program. hope you like it as much as I did!
    PS: I tweet @architect_good , would love a follow:)

  21. I enjoy all the Living with Kids posts, but this one really spoke to me. I loved reading Becca’s thoughts on family and community so much that I checked out her blog. My family isn’t moving overseas, but we are moving from NYC to Utah with our young children and feel that this is an opportunity to restart our life in a fashion that we are more comfortable with. I found her words here and on her blog to be very inspirational. Thank you!

  22. I am about to be an avid follower of your blog. Thanks for sharing about your life in Italy. How do you get any cooking done in a kitchen with that view?!

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  24. I loved reading the commentary on your lives in Sicily, Becca. I get a sense of the quietness and peace at home amidst lots of activity, with the family and the children loved and cared for. Your home has such a spectacular and unique setting!

  25. In Argentina you can’t just rent an apartment or house. You are required to have a “guarantor” sign for you. The guarantor must own property in Argentina, and be willing to put it up for collateral, so that if you don’t pay the rent, the owner can collect it from your guarantor. This is in addition to putting down a hefty deposit. You also cannot rent directly from an owner, but must go through a realtor (it’s actually the law) who gets a sizeable fee, not only when you initially rent but every time you renew the contract.

  26. This was so beautiful and inspiring Becca! Thank you so much for giving us a glimpse into your life and your wise words and sweet grateful attitude. You have such a great perspective and I’m so glad to have gleaned from you:)
    ~Jennifer

  27. Hi Becca! I loved seeing your home tour and reading your thoughts on expat life. We moved overseas about four years ago. The first assignment we tried so hard to get was in Catania! We didn’t get it, but ended up in Germany and now in England. I so relate to trying to raise your kids well, far from relatives. We have enjoyed the opportunity to build our own family culture and make choices toward a more intentional lifestyle. I am wishing you well in the next chapter, and thank you for sharing!

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